Personal Finance > Your Home
Selling your Home -- alone
March 19, 1999: 4:20 p.m. ET

Putting your house on the market without a broker can save you thousands
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - It took 7 months of open houses, two real estate agents and four "ridiculous" offers on his house before John Izzo decided enough was enough.
     The Tolland, Conn.-resident took the lock box off his door, placed an online ad and waited to see what would happen.
     "I wanted to give it a shot myself," he said. "In a three week time span I had 20 to 25 calls and two serious buyers."
     Izzo now has a contract on his house and a closing date scheduled to finalize the deal.
     He also saved $17,000 on his house, which originally listed for $279,000, by cutting out the middleman (based on a 6 percent commission).
Getting started

     Selling your home without the help of a broker is a less daunting task than you might imagine. It just takes a little patience and some self-education.
     Start by obtaining a standard contract form from your local stationary store or real estate agent, says the American Homeowners Association.
     Then, decide on a price for your place, either by hiring a professional appraiser or simply by finding out what your neighbors' homes are selling for.
     You'll also want to talk to a mortgage banker to learn how to pre-qualify potential buyers - which will save you a lot of time and energy. Your mortgage banker will most likely provide you with basic forms for buyers to complete.
     The AHA also suggests you draw up a fact sheet with color snapshots of your home to hand out to prospective buyers. Include details on the neighborhood, school, public transportation and religious institutions. And don't forget the basics, such as annual property taxes, average utility costs and specific features of the property.
     Before you list the house, make sure you understand any seller's disclosure laws. Many states require homeowners to list all known problems with a home when it goes on the market.
     "There are a lot of new laws out there and this is a (law)suit happy society," said E. Wayne Hall, a lifelong real estate broker and author of the book, "OK, So You Want To Sell Your Own Home." "You could be violating the law without even knowing it."
Straighten up

     Now you're ready for the dirty work.
     Get the garden gloves on and pull up all the weeds in front of your house. Wash the windows. Trim the bushes. Paint the shutters, if needed, and generally freshen up the place.
     "I tell people to drive up to their house like they've never seen it before," said Carol York, of FSBO Connection. "Look at the mailbox since this is the first thing (prospective buyers) will see. If it needs to be repaired do it. If the door knocker is squeaky, fix it."
     It's all about curb appeal, she said.
     "It's a lot more important than most people think," York said.
     Before you bring people into your home, you should also eliminate clutter. Clear a wide path through your hallways, since families often walk through homes as a group. Having too much furniture in the way will cause them to bump into each other, giving the impression that your home is smaller than it actually is.
     Same goes for other areas of the house.
     "If people see a closet or garage jam packed and totally unorganized they are going to feel like they have to live that way," York said.
     You'll also want to keep your pets out of sight, a big turn-off for some home buyers. And lastly, step back and give your guests some room to roam.
     "Too much talking can hurt you," York said, adding you should give the prospective buyers a chance to visualize the place as their own.
     The idea, of course, is to spend as little as possible, but do what's necessary to give your house a fresh, inviting look. That may be as simple as a fresh coat of paint.
Get the word out

     For-sale signs in your front lawn can be effective, but if you're off the beaten path you'll have to take a more proactive approach.
     Take out ads in the local newspaper, place an ad with the For Sale By Owner Network and get out into your community.
     York said you should post single page ads with photos of your house, if possible, on the bulletin board of your local grocery store. The lunch room of any large corporation in the vicinity is another good place to promote your property.
     If you're uncomfortable going solo, but don't want to pay the real estate agent a hefty commission, you might consider cutting a deal.
     Many will agree to handle the legal paperwork, while you do the selling of your home, for a reduced commission.
     Additionally, you can always pay to have your home listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) used by real estate agents, while you continue to try selling it on your own.
     This way, the broker gets the commission only if they sell your home.
How many go it alone?

     A 1997 survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows that 68 percent of respondents sold their homes through a real estate professional.
     Of that group, 8 percent tried unsuccessfully to sell on their own.
     NAR also reports that the percentage of people who sold their own homes has remained relatively small over the last decade -- lower than 20 percent.
     "The real estate transaction is fairly complex and one of the advantages of using a professional is that they are knowledgeable of the market and they have the ability to negotiate the contract agreement," said Jeff Lubar, NAR's vice president of public affairs. "They ensure that all the details that people tend to overlook are taken care of."
     The biggest pitfall for newcomers to the real estate scene is the tendency to overprice or underprice your home. There are also legal pitfalls you might encounter by accidentally failing to comply with the numerous disclosure laws of each jurisdiction.
     "We've got surveys showing that, of people who have sold their own homes, 85 percent said they'd use a broker if they had it to do over again," Lubar said.
     NAR noted that a seasoned, experienced broker can also provide potential buyers with current reports, and has a better understanding of the local housing market and financing options available - knowledge that can help you close the deal.
     They also have access to the multiple listing services, which gives your home better advertising exposure.
     The list goes on, according to advocates for professional brokers. Some, they say, report trouble organizing open houses, or finding the time to host them. Others found arranging for appraisals and inspections to be burdensome.
     The paperwork can also be an onerous task and few liked helping buyers obtain financing.
     Even so, Izzo said he wouldn't have it any other way.
     "I spent maybe $300 to $400 on advertising," he said. "I definitely recommend it." Back to top
     --by staff writer Shelly K. Schwartz


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